Oklahoma governor calls for resignation of county officials allegedly taped complaining that law enforcement can no longer ‘take a fucking black man and kick his ass’ and comparing burned body to victim of a fire at a ‘barbecue’.
Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) says McCurtain County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, County Commissioner Mark Jennings, Sheriff Investigator Alicia Manning and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix must stand down after the tapes are released , taken by longtime local journalist Bruce Wellingham, The Associated Press reported. A transcript of the recordings, which includes links to the audio files, provided to the AP reportedly revealed the disturbing conversations between county officials after a county commissioner’s meeting was closed to the public on March 6.
Officials are apparently heard complaining that they cannot commit violence against black people without repercussions.
“It’s like somebody wants this job, they don’t realize it, like your job,” Jennings reportedly said. “I heard it the other day, I said I heard that 2 or 12 people were going to be sheriffs. I said f—, let’s get 20. They don’t have a clue what they’re getting into. Not these days. I am going to tell you something. If it was back then…when Alan Marshton would pick up a fucking black guy and kick his ass and throw him in the cell? I’ll run for f—— sheriff.
“Yeah. Well, it’s not like that anymore,” Clardy reportedly replied.
“I know,” Jennings said. “Take them to Mud Creek and hang them up with a fucking rope. But you can’t do that anymore. They have more rights than us”.
Speakers were also heard laughing as Clardy told a story comparing a fire victim to a ‘barbecue’ during an interaction with the medical examiner.
“So we put her in the body bag and Kyler leaves, you know what we have to do now, right?” Clardy allegedly said, according to a transcript of the recording linked to the AP story. “Faith goes, no, what? There you go, you have to preheat the oven to 350 degrees, leave it there for 15 minutes. And she left (sounds of vomiting) (laughs). Bless his heart. It was… and then the medical examiner asked him, he said hey, we’re about to go eat. And he looked her in the face and said do you want to come with me and have a barbecue? (big laugh).
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Jennings and Manning were also reportedly heard discussing “hit men” in relation to Bruce Willingham, the reporter who made the recordings. According to the transcript:
Jennings: But the problem is, you know.
Manning: Actually, we told the truth.
Jennings: I’ve known, I’ve known two or three hitmen, they’re very quiet guys…
Jennings: And would cut no f——pity.
Jennings: In Louisiana. Because it’s mafia here.
Kevin: Oh yeah
Manning: Yeah, but here’s the reality. If a hair on his wife’s head, Chris Willingham’s head, or any of those people who were really behind this, if a hair on their head was touched by someone, who would be the bad guy?
Sheriff: Who would be blamed for that?
Willingham, the publisher of the McCurtain Gazette-News, said he left a voice-activated recorder in the room after the meeting because he suspected officials were still doing business after the meeting officially ended, in violation of a state law that requires “all meetings of public agencies” to be open to the public.
“I spoke to our attorneys twice to make sure I wasn’t doing anything illegal,” Bruce Willingham said, according to The Associated Press.
Chris Willingham, son of Bruce Willingham, is also a reporter for McCurtain County, a print publication that does not publish online. Chris Willingham had filed a federal lawsuit against Clardy and Manning the same day the tapes were made, alleging intimidation and harassment in retaliation for his reporting on county officials. This reporting included revelations of an alleged “sexual relationship” between Clardy and Manning and reports of favoritism and misconduct within the sheriff’s department.
Stitt’s condemnation of county officials was unequivocal.
“I am both appalled and heartbroken to hear the horrific comments from McCurtain County officials,” Stitt said in a statement, according to the AP. “There is simply no place for such hateful rhetoric in the state of Oklahoma, especially by those who serve to represent the community through their respective offices.”
The McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Monday that the situation is “complex” and implies the McCurtain Gazette may have violated state registration laws.
“The last 72 hours have been some of the most challenging and disruptive in recent memory,” the MCSO said in a Facebook post. “It’s a very complex situation and we regret having to deal with it.”
More from the sheriff’s office:
There is and has been an ongoing investigation into several significant violations of the Oklahoma Communications Security Act, Title 13, Chapters 176.3 and 176.4, which states that it is illegal to secretly record a conversation in which you are not involved and do not have the consent of at least one of the parties involved. There are a significant number of victims of this criminal activity and it took a lot of effort and time to identify them and corroborate the evidence.
Many of these recordings, like the one released Friday by the media, have yet to be duly authenticated or validated. Our preliminary information indicates that the audio recording released by the media has, in fact, been altered. The motivation to do so remains unclear at this point. This matter is under active investigation.
In addition to being obtained illegally, the audio does not match the “transcription” of this audio and is not precisely consistent with what was printed.
Several agencies are participating in this ongoing investigation.
Following Friday’s press release, a large number of threats of violence, including death threats, were made against county employees and officials, their families and friends.
There will be ongoing press releases from this agency as the investigation draws to a close and findings are forwarded to the appropriate authorities for felony charges to be filed against those involved.
The attorney representing Christopher Lee Willingham in the federal case against Clardy and Manning released a statement on behalf of the father and son reporting team.
“The Willingham family is extremely grateful for the outpouring of support that has resulted from the publication of the April 15-16, 2023 weekend edition of the McCurtain Gazette,” said attorney Christin Jones of the firm. lawyers Kilpatrick Townsend in a statement emailed to Law&Crime. “For nearly a year they have been bullied, ridiculed and harassed solely because of their efforts to report the news from McCurtain County. They love their county and its people very much – the family has lived in the county for nearly 120 years and has run the Gazette for more than 40. While grateful for the wide attention the story has received, they look forward to the day when they can continue to report the news and not be the news.
Jones also said the full audio “should be released on Thursday.”
McCurtain County is located in southeastern Oklahoma and borders both Texas and Arkansas.
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